You’re not alone when it comes to distractions
Yes, the internet is a place where work happens, but distractions are always a click away. You could say this is a matter of discipline, and it is, but the odds aren’t in your favor. The internet is, at this point, a dopamine slot machine. The greatest minds of our generation are working around the clock to “increase engagement,” which is a tech term that means “doing everything possible to get you to spend every waking moment scrolling and liking things.” Trying to fight this with willpower alone is like bringing a water gun to a thermonuclear war.
Which is why there’s no shame in using tools to help you build discipline. This is where distraction blocking software shines. Turn these focus apps on, and you can’t open anything distracting—it won’t work. Instead, you’ll see a reminder that you set up software to block apps, and you’ll be encouraged to get back to work. It’s oddly liberating.
What is a focus app?
Don’t confuse website blocker apps with parental control software—that’s not what they’re for. No, these tools are for you, and they hopefully help you build better habits. We researched this category extensively and considered dozens of options, then evaluated them against our criteria. We think that the best distraction blocking apps should do the following:
Block a list of websites and/or apps (determined by you)
Allow you to set a schedule and/or a timer
Be annoying (at the very least) to disable
In addition, because we’re thinking about work, we only considered apps that work on computers—there are no mobile-only tools here. Here’s the focusing software we think works best.
The 7 best apps to help you focus and block distractions
Freedom for blocking distractions on all your devices at once
Serene for planning and following through on deep focus sessions
Cold Turkey Blocker for scheduled system-wide blocking
LeechBlock NG for free browser-based website blocking
RescueTime for time tracking with built-in website blocking
Forest for motivating you to put your phone down
SelfControl for a nuclear option
Best focus app for blocking distractions on all your devices at once
Freedom (Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Chrome)
Most distraction blockers work only on whatever device you’re using right now. Freedom can block distractions—both websites and apps—on all of your devices, simultaneously. No more blocking Instagram on your computer, only to immediately open it on your phone. If you start a session, your distractions are blocked everywhere.
Set up as many blocklists as you want, then start or schedule a session. There’s a lockdown mode, which makes it impossible to edit your blocklists while a session is active—consider that if you’re prone to working around your own good intentions. There are also optional focus sounds, which are basically ambient background noise from coffee shops or nature.
The downside: there’s no long-term free version, only a limited trial that lets you run six distraction-free sessions. That should be enough time to figure out if it will work for you, though.
Freedom pricing: Premium starts at $6.99/month.
Best focus app for planning and following through on deep focus sessions
Serene (macOS, Windows “coming soon”)
Serene isn’t just a distraction blocker: it’s a productivity system built around periods of deep focus. Users choose a list of websites and apps they find distracting, then block them when it’s time to buckle down and get some work done. But there’s more than that here.
The app is built around planning your day. List how many things you want to work on and how long they’ll take. Then, when it’s time to work, click the Go Serene button to start a timer. All of your distractions will be blocked, optional concentration music will play, and you’ll be reminded that it’s time to focus and shown your countdown timer every time you try to open a site that you shouldn’t. These elements work really well together—you’re not only blocking distractions; you’re also reminding yourself of what you’d like to accomplish.
You can streamline your focus sessions even more with Serene’s Zapier integrations, which can create focus sessions from apps like Trello, Asana, Todoist, and any other task management app you can think of.
Serene pricing: $4/month. Free trial limited to 10 free deep work hours.
Best focus app for scheduled system-wide blocking
Cold Turkey Blocker (Windows, macOS)